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The Paradise Of The Holy Fathers Volumes 1 and 2 by Saint Athanasius Of Alexandria

NOW when the brethren had come to the congregation of the night, and the service for the night also was ended, they sat down to hearken unto his words; and he opened his mouth, and said unto them, “O my brethren, so long as ye have breath in your bodies strive for your redemption; and before there cometh the hour wherein we shall have to weep for our souls let us cultivate spiritual excellence with a ready mind. And I say unto you that, if ye knew what good things were in heaven, and the glory which is laid up for the saints, and how those who have fallen are punished by God, and the tortures which are laid up for those who have been neglectful, and especially for those who having known the truth have not, as was right, guided themselves thereby, instead of inheriting the blessedness which is reserved for the saints, [ye would do so]. Flee ye then from the punishments which are in [these] tortures! And consider the graves, and consider the resurrection of the children of men, who are nothing! Why then doth man, who is dust, vaunt himself with vainglory? Why then doth he, who is altogether stinkingness, exalt himself? Let us weep for ourselves whilst we still have the time, so that when our departure cometh nigh we may not be found asking God for more time wherein to repent. A wretched thing is that soul, and greatly to be blamed, which hath left the world, but which had not dedicated itself to God, and which had not lived worthily of its promise. Let us not then, O my brethren, allow this world, which is a small and a contemptible thing, and which resembleth a fleeting shadow, to steal away from us blessed and immortal life.

Verily I fear lest your fathers in the flesh, who lived in the world, and who were carried away by the anxious cares and afflictions of the world, and who imagined about you that ye were nigh unto the Lord, whereby ye received a pledge that ye would enter into a life of blessedness, will be more worthy than ye are of assistance in the world which is to come. And at that time they will be found condemning you, and saying that which is written, ‘How hath he disgraced you, and put you greatly to shame: the fire hath blazed out upon you, and your branches have been destroyed, and therefore have ye become a thing of spoil (or prey), over which the lions roar and send out their voices.’ Therefore, O my beloved, be ye like unto those who are good, and let the crown of your head be exalted. The cities which are towards the south, how are they to be taken? There is none who will open unto you. For the sinner shall be carried off because he seeth not the glory of the Lord. Behold, ye have heard. Therefore, O my brethren, let us strive with all our souls, and let us set death before our eyes, and fasten our gaze upon the terrible tortures [of Sheol], so that by means of them the mind may arrive at the understanding, which beareth away the soul from care; and when it weepeth [the mind] maketh it to be a spectator, and with earthly things it enricheth it without wandering to God. And not this only, for when it doeth these things in humility, it persuadeth it to action which is free from every kind of worldly mind, and to contempt instead of vainglory.

Let the soul then, O my brethren, practise philosophy each day in respect of this solid body [of ours], and when we come to our beds in the evening let it say unto each one of the members of the body, ‘O legs, how much power have ye to stand up, and to move yourselves before ye die and become things without motion? Will ye not stand up with good will for your Lord?’ And let it say unto the other members, ‘O hands, there cometh an hour when ye shall be dissolved and motionless, and when ye shall never be clasped in each other again, and when ye shall not have any movement whatsoever; why then before ye fall into that hour and are cut off do ye not stretch yourselves out to the Lord?’ And unto the whole body shall the soul speak thus: ‘O body, before we are separated and are removed far away from each other, and before I descend into Sheol, and receive everlasting fetters under darkness, and before thou art changed into the primal matter of which thou art made, and art cast out upon the earth to become filthiness and corruption, and to decay, rise up boldly to worship the Lord without dislike, and take my intelligence, by means of tears, and make known to thy lordship thy free will servitude; and bear me on that with a good will I may give thanks unto God before thou art crushed under the weight of other things, and dost seek to lie down, and to take thy rest, and dost condemn me to everlasting torment. For there are times when that heavy sleep is about to confuse thee. And if thou wilt hearken unto me, we shall enjoy happiness together in the inheritance of blessing, but if thou wilt not hearken unto me, then woe is me that I have ever been fettered by thee, for on thy account I, the wretched thing, shall be condemned.’

“Now, if ye act thus daily, and if ye consecrate yourselves, verily ye shall become real temples of God, and since God dwelleth in you the cunning and wiles of Satan shall not be able to do you injury; for instead of having a myriad of teachers, the word of God shall dwell in you, and it shall teach you more [than they], and it shall make you exceedingly wise by its own knowledge; and it is unable to speak all the things which belong to human speech, but these the Spirit, holy, and divine, and pure, and spotless shall teach you, even as the Apostle saith (Romans 8:26), ‘For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself prayeth for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,’ etc. And there are many other helpful things which it would be possible for us to say unto you by God’s grace, yet because our mind doth not urge us to these same things we must direct our discourse to other matters.”








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